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FAQ: Settlements With a Nursing Home

You've started a lawsuit and gathered evidence of nursing home negligence or abuse. But your lawyer recommended settling. Or maybe an assisted living facility sent you a settlement offer. Now, you may want to know whether you should settle. You may also wonder how to make sure the settlement terms are fair. Would settling mean the nursing home lawyers are downplaying the issue or leaving money on the table?

Despite the best efforts of medical professionals and elder care advocates, nursing home abuse and neglect are a continuing problem. Sometimes, settlement can bring peace to victims. Elder abuse in nursing homes can be from neglect resulting in:

  • Bedsores, malnutrition, and dehydration
  • Assault, psychological abuse, and financial exploitation
  • General mistreatment of residents by nursing home staff members

If your loved one suffered abuse in a nursing home and you are considering filing a lawsuit for elder abuse, this article can help you with nursing home lawsuit settlements. Remember, every case is different, and no outcome is guaranteed. To learn more, speak with a qualified nursing home abuse attorney in your area.

This article covers the following:

What nursing home abuse claims typically get settled?

When abuse or neglect occurs in a nursing home, you may bring a civil lawsuit to seek financial compensation for damages. In some cases, prosecutors (government lawyers) may bring a criminal complaint to punish the offender for unlawful actions.

There are three main types of civil claims that can be brought against a nursing home and its employee-caregivers:

Nursing homes may be liable for wrongdoing that leads to falls, broken bones, and head injuries. If a nursing home resident dies as a result of the action or inaction of caregivers, their family may choose to pursue a wrongful death settlement. The lives of the elderly are not without value. Families suffer a grievous loss and may be haunted by feelings of guilt that their loved ones suffered. No amount of money can bring back a beloved parent. Many families hope that by having to pay for their actions, the nursing home will take more care in the future.

How does a settlement work?

A settlement is basically a resolution of a lawsuit to avoid trial. Both parties come to an agreement on an amount of money in exchange for giving up the right to pursue further legal action. A 2003 study found that 88% of nursing home litigation was resolved through settlements and never went to a jury trial.

Either party—the complainant (plaintiff) or the defendant—may propose a settlement prior to a trial verdict. Offers can also be negotiated even before a lawsuit is filed in court. In the early stages of a legal case, a plaintiff or their personal injury lawyer can spar with a nursing facility's insurance company. A settlement agreement can be reached before or during litigation (filing of a nursing home abuse lawsuit or personal injury lawsuit).

A settlement contract will lay out the terms of dismissal or waiver of the plaintiff's claims. This means that the complainant will agree not to sue, or to permanently drop their lawsuit if they have already filed one. In return, the nursing facility will pay a settlement award. The payment will typically include compensation for the injured party's medical bills and other damages arising out of a neglect case.

What is the average settlement amount?

Here, we must make a disclaimer. It is almost impossible to predict the outcome of any case with precision – particularly settlements. Every case has unique facts, evidence, and witnesses.

California, Texas, Illinois, and Florida have the highest number of nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits. Texas and Florida report higher average financial recoveries. An average recovery of $406,000 was reported for nursing home litigation settlements in 2003. That number has undoubtedly increased in the intervening decades.

Settlements can range from thousands of dollars to multiple millions of dollars. Nursing home neglect cases involving serious injuries and intentional harm achieve significant recoveries. In wrongful death cases involving loss of life, settlement numbers will be relatively larger.

Is there a limit to how much I can recover from a nursing home lawsuit?

It depends. Some states, such as Alaska, California, and Colorado, now limit the amount of recovery a plaintiff can receive for pain and suffering, emotional distress, fear, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and loss of enjoyment of life. These are also called non-economic damages. These limits are called damages caps. Damage caps are not applicable in every type of personal injury case, however. For example, in California, these caps only exist for medical malpractice claims.

You can see an example in the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, enacted in California in 1975. This tort reform (improvement to civil injury law) sought to manage the high cost of medical care.

When discussing limits, it's also important to be mindful of your state's statute of limitations. This is a law that imposes time limits, rather than dollar limits, to lawsuit filings. State laws differ on how long you have to file a complaint against a nursing home. If the statute of limitations on a case runs out, the defendant will no longer be incentivized to enter into a settlement.

Should I accept a settlement offer?

It's obviously tempting to say "yes" when someone offers you money. But they might be lowballing you. If you have medical records and other evidence to back up your claims for significant damages, it might be worth holding off. Sometimes, a settlement offer is only an initial gesture, meaning that the opening party expects to receive a counteroffer.

In some cases, accepting an early settlement offer may be a good idea. If you're in desperate need of cash or you don't have the luxury of time, it might make sense to resolve the dispute. For others, the emotional toll of a legal action can be unbearable. In most cases, however, it pays off to be patient. Insurance companies (and defendants in general) have a vested interest in paying as little as possible toward settlement. On the other hand, an injured plaintiff should want to get the most bang for their buck.

Ultimately, accepting a settlement offer is a function of:

  • How much money you might need to continue spending on your case
  • How much time and emotional durability you have for withstanding prolonged litigation
  • The size of the settlement relative to the amount of your losses and costs, including injury damages and legal expenses
  • The strength of your case and the volume of evidence and expert testimony that might warrant a larger payout

The biggest risk to rejecting a settlement is the possibility that you might lose your lawsuit. In some cases, there's a possibility that the judge or jury will find in favor of the nursing home. If that happens, you could walk away with nothing. Similarly, the nursing facility also runs a risk of a larger damage award against them if they don't settle. This is why it's important to discuss settlement prospects with an experienced attorney to ensure you're taking a calculated risk.

How do I know if a settlement amount is fair?

It has been suggested that the fairest settlements are those in which neither side leaves the table feeling too happy. But that's not necessarily true. While a portion of your damages can be objectively calculated using medical bills, other portions of your claim are completely subjective. That includes the pain and suffering you or your loved one had to endure.

In general, settlement is appropriate when the cost of continuing litigation is outweighed by the benefit of resolving the case once and for all. Remember that the cost of pursuing a lawsuit is both financial and emotional. No one likes going to court, sitting for depositions (legal interviews), or being questioned about their motives in front of a judge. It might also seem unfair to keep paying lawyers, whether you're on the offensive or the defensive.

With these factors in mind, ultimately a settlement is fair if it:

  • Pays you enough to make you whole for your injuries and costs
  • Helps you avoid additional financial and emotional trauma inherent to a legal case
  • Brings you and your family members some degree of closure
  • Avoids or minimizes the risk of loss in trial

In general, your settlement should account for all kinds of recoverable injury damages.

What strategies does a lawyer use when settling a nursing home claim?

Depending on the facts of your case, attorneys have a wide range of options in their toolbox. If they're looking at pure numbers alone, lawyers can simply add up your injury bills to date and calculate future medical expenses. They can also look at similar jury verdicts in your state in order to determine a fair demand for your pain and suffering.

But settling a nursing home case sometimes requires more finesse. Having an attorney on your side means they can:

  • Legally threaten the nursing home by seeking punitive damages in court. Punitive damages are awards exceeding compensatory damages because they're designed to deter nursing homes from future egregious behavior
  • Press the defendant to engage in expensive discovery, to the point that settling might make more financial sense
  • Hire an expert witness to testify against the nursing home's practices or in favor of larger damages for your specific injuries
  • Capture the public's eyes and hearts by bringing attention to your suffering, e.g., by giving interviews to journalism outlets

There are a variety of additional strategies that attorneys have at their disposal. Ultimately, the suitability of these tactics depends on the stage of litigation, the strength of each side's facts, and the case law and civil codes involved.

When does a settlement happen, and how can settling my case save money?

It costs money to hire a lawyer. Some lawyers will work on contingency fee arrangements, which means they won't ask you for money until your case settles. But even if you're lucky enough not to be paying upfront legal fees, a lawsuit can still be very expensive. Separate from having to pay lawyer's fees, a lawsuit can put you in a position to pay for court fees and litigation expenses. These include:

  • Filing fees, jury fees, and court reporter fees
  • Expert witness fees (e.g., doctors who might examine you for the purpose of testifying in your favor or against the nursing home)
  • Travel expenses, discovery costs, and ongoing medical bills

As previously mentioned in this article, settlement typically happens when the costs to continue litigation are outweighed by settlement prospects. If the settlement amount exceeds the cost of prolonging litigation, it might be time to resolve the case. Ending the lawsuit also means saving money on all the fees and costs associated with your legal action.

Remember—when it comes to legal cases, winning is not guaranteed, and neither are settlements. Sometimes, taking the calculated risk of settling (or taking it all the way to trial) can result in disappointment. That's why it's important to obtain legal advice before making any final decision.

Nursing Home Lawsuit Settlement FAQ: Related Resources

Get a Claim Review of Your Nursing Home Abuse Case

Nothing can be more heart-wrenching than realizing your elderly parent is being abused or neglected by their supposedly trusted caregivers. Fight back. You can do that by filing a lawsuit against the caregiver or their parent company. Learn more about filing a nursing home abuse case by contacting a local personal injury attorney who specializes in these types of cases.

Some nursing home abuse lawyers offer free case reviews that can help you understand your options. A helpful case evaluation is just one phone number away. With the right kind of legal advice, you can learn more about whether settlement is appropriate for you.

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